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Gamers Divided Will Never Be United

10 Aug

While riding the bus, I was playing my stupid solitaire game, and a commercial for another game comes on. I couldn’t help but notice most of them end in the gamer failing, with the challenge, “Could you do better?” Who does that speak to?

Because what it doesn’t appeal to is me. I’m playing a casual game – solitaire – it has a small challenge level and is designed for people like me who just want to be amused while waiting for something else. Which reminded me that applies to all my games: I prefer the sandbox, world building games with a little bit of challenge to keep me going.

But the “casual gamer” is not who these ads are focused to… which is odd, considering these ARE casual games they’re promoting. I think the disconnect is because the marketers are “competitive gamers;” those who fail at a level and say to themselves, “Oh hell no you don’t! I’m going to sit at this level for another hour to get past you!” Whereas in the rare time I sit down to Tour of Battlefield IV: Special Ops, I might get killed at the level three times before I say, “Let me go check on my Minecraft realm.”

I prefer cooperative games where I can build a civilization that lasts. But I don’t want a huge learning curve to accomplish that, regardless of how cool the game is. Look at Sid Meyer’s Civilization. You start out with a limited number of choices (one or two units, four or five technologies to research) and whole lot of nothingness to explore. Minecraft does the same technique; you chop down a tree, you build tools, then you can chop other stuff, then get better tools and more tech… yadda yadda.

But when Civilization V became VI, they forgot that rule. They combined religion, cultural advancement, and attitudes into one GIANT screen full of options. And you had to do this right off the bat, along with units and tech. And I have no idea what any of this does or why I should care or how I can improve this. So guess what? I play Civ 5 and I haven’t touched Civ 6 since. They listened to the challenge gamers, not the “builders.” In Minecraft, they have goals and challenges and dungeons that appeal to people who want to “win the game.” (And you can, apparently.) But me and my friends are builders–skeletons are (necessary) annoyances, but it encourages us to build defenses, keep the things that threaten our perfect blue buildings from being destroyed. (Trust me, creative mode–without monsters–is boring as hell.) You can still enjoy the game without the challenges.

The joy I get from extra options–or challenges–only come with playing them again. “Oh, let’s see if I can stay on this one island and still dominate the world.” OR “I wonder if I can build an automated chicken farm.” NOT Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock, where if you can’t figure out how to defeat the Cylons in Scenario 2, “Oh, well, guess you got to try it again.” Linear storylines bore the crap out of me. If I wanted that, I could read a book. I don’t care how cool the graphics are… which is why I still play Empire Deluxe, a thirty-year-old game. Okay, it’s the newer version, but the graphics are still pure-1993 VGA screens–I want the simplicity with more options. That’s true with Google’s design over Bing / Yahoo, that’s true with my games.

But I may be the minority; let me know your favorites in the comments below.

I Wouldn’t Cry At Her Funeral

14 Jul

My neighbor died recently. She was eighty-something widow, mother of two sons, and several grandkids. I didn’t know much beyond that because she was crazy, raving b#&$h.

I recently looked back at one of my posts which talked about discovering people dead in their houses years after they died. Our neighbor Michelle had a stroke and somehow notified the ambulance hours after it happened. She lived alone, went out once a day at 3 pm, watered her plants in the backyard, got in her car, and came back at 4 pm (I’m guessing grocery shopping). She checked her mail occasionally, but otherwise, I didn’t see her.

Frankly, that was fine with me. I hadn’t talked to her in years. In fact, I deliberately went out of my way NOT to talk to her. Our neighborly relationship started off okay; saying hi while passing, mentioning when something was broken. However, it was obvious she was a person who focused on the negative. When I was smoking my pipe in my backyard, she asked me if I could smoke it on the other side. I obliged. But when I was smoking while working on my laptop, she came out and starting watering her plants. She decided to splash me with her hose… with my $2000 laptop on me!

To quote Bugs Bunny, “You realize, this means war.” This lead to escalation between us – passing insults, dumping crap on her windshield – eventually this led to me shouting at her which led to my wife shouting at her. After that, we just agreed, “Screw her. We don’t need her in our life. I smoked on the other side of the backyard and never talked to her again. If we had to communicate to her for some reason, we called her son. Interestingly enough, he came over to our house, introduced himself, and gave us his number… you got the impression he knew who his mother was.

We saw the ambulance; my wife found out from her son she had a stroke. We prayed for her recovery–even though I hated her–but she didn’t make it and died a week later. We didn’t ask to attend her funeral; frankly, I think the neighborhood is a better place without her. I think she had been waiting to die for decades.

I try not to hate anybody, but sometimes, someone just rubs you the wrong way. Michelle was not a person who got along to get along; as far as I could tell, she didn’t talk to anyone outside her family. Certainly no one else visited, apart from repairmen. She could have easily been someone whose body wouldn’t have been discovered for two weeks.

In our neighborhood, there was also one house that was always shuttered up. I mean metal shutters over the windows, signs to tell everyone to stay out, and so many security cameras that it was overkill. It had been that way since we moved in seven years ago. My theory was that it was a snowbird who got too old to travel back and forth (like my grandparents), but never got around to selling it. He must have died because they just recently renovated it and make it really amazing looking. Did his neighbors ever wonder if there was a mummified body in Mr. Paranoid’s house?

My point? Make your platitude your attitude! No… wait, ah, what about “Life is chaos, be kind?” There’s so much hate or reason to be angry in the world – it costs you nothing to be polite. Then maybe people will come to your funeral; maybe people will wonder where you are.

Statistics Ad Absurdum

13 Jul

In the 1970s, orchestras began using blind auditions, playing behind a screen so the jury that cannot see them. As a result, the number of women in orchestras increased five fold… except they didn’t. That “fact” was vastly exaggerated.

Memory is a funny thing – the first factoid you hear often sticks and becomes truth, whether not it’s disproven later. What amazes me is how often that “fact” gets blown out of proportion. Take the “blind audition” story; I had never heard this until I took our DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) training at work.

Side note: My workplace does this training right. Compared to the horror stories I’ve heard, they’re not trying to shove a political agenda, or punish you for being white… just ways to be civil to each other. The only part that is “dicey” is the gender expression and identity section, but to be fair, we’re all trying to figure that out. How are we supposed to teach it?

So I’ve gone through this training around ten times–not because I was being punished, but because I work in the department that trains this. So I was asked to “produce” this class (handle the technical problems for this online class) as a favor for another trainer. Therefore, I’ve seen the video where they mention the “blind audition” research as an example of gender bias about ten times. This time, I decided to fact-check this.

The research was called “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of ‘Blind’ Auditions on Female Musicians” by Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse, originally published in the September 2000 issue of the American Economic Review. You can read the original study here, but I’ll warn you, it’s 27 pages long. Even I didn’t feel like going through all of it, so if you feel like going through Andrew Gelman’s blog about it, he lays out the stats pretty well in a shorter form. The point is that they looked at nine different orchestras (the “Big Five” and four regional ones) and compared their hiring rates across fifty years of data, then saw how that changed when blind auditions were added. The end result? On p. 737 of the original study, before blind auditions, women were hired 10 percent of the time; after, 35 percent. So there was an increase… but certainly NOT five fold!

What I found more interesting–and Gelman doesn’t mention–is that the paper is 65 pages long. But wait, Marcus, you just said it was 27 pages long? The research is… the other half of the document is the 741 times (!) this article has been cited in other research. As someone who has written many, many research papers, this might explain the exaggeration. When you’re just referencing the results (like I’m doing now) in your own paper, you simplify. You don’t mention that the research found women were 25 percent higher to get to the next round of auditions, not hired. I didn’t mention it either… to make a point. When you simply copy the stats to make your point, it’s much easier to exaggerate.

So 25 percent becomes 35 percent, becomes fifty percent, becomes fivefold. Why? This is the telephone game writ large. Original research is read by other researcher and used in their research, which is read by a journalist who writes an article, which is read by a DEI trainer who decides to use it in a class. Along the way, it’s easy to forget the exact number. Or because 25 percent isn’t dramatic enough, you say 50 percent, although I’d prefer to believe that was simply the writer not going back to confirm their facts. Because people want to have hard facts to support your empirical view, that women tend to get hired less than men, and a slight increase doesn’t quite make your point, does it?

Now the research didn’t cover the numbers of applicants, rather they focused on the proportion, because “symphony orchestras do not vary much in size and have virtually identical numbers and types of jobs.” (p. 717) They don’t hire that many people per year. It did mention that almost all harpists are women and that the New York Philharmonic (as of 2000) had 35 percent women. Is it possible that less women are going into those jobs? After all, women only comprise of 3.4% of all construction trades. Now is that because, like higher math or construction fields, you have to deal with a lot of pricks who hit on you or say “girls can’t do X?” Quite possibly. Music majors were the biggest pricks I ever met in college; my theory is that the less jobs available in your career, the more competitive they have to be. Female nurses comprise of 75% of the workforce, elementary school teachers has a higher gender bias towards women.

Is it possible that different genders are favor different types of work? That working nights as a violinist is not conducive to women who want to have kids? Or am I exaggerating? 🙂 Let me know in the comments below.

Silence Is Not Consent

7 Jul

When my students didn’t ask any questions, I would write “Qui tacet consentire” on the board, saying that if you didn’t speak up, I’d assume you agree with me. In real life, that’s rarely the case.

For those who didn’t take Latin in high school (including me), qui tacet consentire videtur means “he who is silent is believed to agree.” In legal terminology, this is known as the silence procedure and dates to time immemorial. In fact, it’s in the Bible:

If there is a virgin pledged in marriage to a man, and another man encounters her in the city and sleeps with her, you must take both of them out to the gate of that city and stone them to death—the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. So you must purge the evil from among you.

But if the man encounters a betrothed woman in the open country, and he overpowers her and lies with her, only the man who has done this must die. Do nothing to the young woman, because she has committed no sin worthy of death. This case is just like one in which a man attacks his neighbor and murders him. When he found her in the field, the betrothed woman cried out, but there was no one to save her.

Deuteronomy 22: 23-27 (BSB)

In American jurisprudence, the silence procedure is not acceptable. In the case of rape, just because the woman didn’t fight back mean that she wanted the sexual contact. Even in jurisdictions where this procedure is acceptable, you can still debate it. In fact, where I learned about this was from the movie (based on the play), A Man for All Seasons. In this case, Sir Thomas More is being tried for treason because he didn’t approve of King Henry VIII’s remarriage without the Pope’s approval for divorce. So the prime minister, Cromwell, is prosecuting him.

Yet how can this be? Because this silence betokened, nay, this silence was, not silence at all, but most eloquent denial!

Sir Thomas More:
Not so. Not so, Master Secretary. The maxim is “Qui tacet consentire”: the maxim of the law is “Silence gives consent”. If therefore you wish to construe what my silence betokened, you must construe that I consented, not that I denied.

Is that in fact what the world construes from it? Do you pretend that is what you wish the world to construe from it?

Sir Thomas More:
The world must construe according to its wits; this court must construe according to the law.

A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt.

So… why am I bringing this up? Because I don’t like to debate people on social media. So when I see someone I like or someone I know posting something I think is really foolish or contrary to my beliefs, I don’t get on the comment and start a merry little war. Because I know it’s not going to do any good; it will not change their mind or mine. This may be why I like blogging better. 🙂 However, the majority of posts are by a small minority of the population.

For example, let’s take Twitter and break it down.

  • Twitter has 206 million monetizable daily active users worldwide (as of August 2021).
  • World population as of 2021 is 7.87 billion. So Twitter consists of 2.5% of world population.
  • The estimate is that 25% of Twitter users are responsible for 97% of all posts.
  • Even if you want to just isolate America, only 22% of American adults use Twitter. Twitter users are younger, more likely to identify as Democrats, more highly educated and have higher incomes than U.S. adults overall. 
  • So if 25% of users are responsible for almost all posts, and only 22% of American adults use it, then you are hearing the opinions of 5.25% of the American people.

Now if you’re like me, and you ignore or block the people who are the most obnoxious (usually about politics), you’re only hearing an even smaller circle of opinions. Extreme views get the most attention–whether that’s on my news radio show or on social media. The mistake is to believe that the extreme voice is what everyone who holds that opinion believes. Most people who agree with critical race theory would not agree with the idea that math is a white supremacist concept. Most people who agree we should secure our borders would not agree with the idea of that we are bringing in a brown-skinned underclass to replace us. (Interestingly enough, I couldn’t find an original source on that, only the commentary. Hmmmm…)

So what’s my point? Don’t discount the silent majority. NPR crowed that Pew Research discovered that pro-choice was now the majority in the US. However, when you break it down, of the 61% of “pro-choice,” of those only 19% say abortion on demand, no exceptions. 42% of that “pro-choice” say there should be limitations, especially how long the mother has been pregnant.

When you hear an extreme viewpoint, don’t take it as the example of who they are. Republicans are not racists, Democrats are not all socialists, and Libertarians aren’t all pot-smokers. I should have made this post shorter, or broken it down, but I was on a roll. Hopefully you have a comment or two, and I will welcome it. Welcome to the extreme moderates. 😀

Making a Virtue Out of Necessity

1 Jul

This morning, I made one of my favorite breakfasts–biscuits and gravy. I made vegan substitutions (tempeh and sage instead of sausage), but it turned out pretty good. But it made me realize that that dish was really an example of making something yummy out of limited resources.

If you go back a hundred years, food was a third to half of your family budget. So you had to stretch out the food you had to cover more than one person. What I made for dinner last night would have qualified: vegetable and lentil soup and “buttermilk” biscuits (soy milk curdled with lemon juice). In 1922, flour was cheap, and most people had a garden. Some people even had a greenhouse to have vegetables into the winter and spring. Even then, you still need to pickle or can your harvested veggies to ensure that you had a supply year-round. So dried beans were cheap (and still are), throw in some of your limited veg, and then add a lot of water. Wheat flour was cheap (still is), so some sort of bread carbs everyone up to feel full and well-fed.

However, due to a series of unexpected events, no one ate my dinner last night, so I had all these biscuits left over. Perfect, I thought, and I made some gravy. What is gravy made from? MORE flour, water, and a fractional amount of sausage. You salt and pepper it and you’re able to stretch a limited amount of food into a yummy breakfast. Coffee falls under dried beans–they last forever, they’re not that expensive, and you can cook them at the time you need them.

So here was a dish that was incredibly easy to make, relatively inexpensive, and yet it’s something I find rare and special. I have made a virtue out of necessity. It’s similar to my theory that all delicacies are “something you ate when you were starving.” It’s only when you’re able to afford steak for dinner or a fish fry on Fridays that you think, “Gee, wasn’t it nice to have biscuits and gravy?”

I love quoting Samuel Johnson (the guy who invented the dictionary) every time I eat oatmeal. “Oats – in England, a food for horses; in Scotland, a food for men.” I do it because oatmeal is very yummy… and I’m at least half or more Scottish. Dr. Sam was making fun of the Scots because they were backward, but really, they were poor. But it grows well in wet ground and/or sandy soil, and it’s high in calorie content, so it keep you’re wee bonny bairns alive. But notice the picture–there’s blueberries in it. Why? Because that was free. You literally went outside, collected berries, and threw them in with what you eating already. Since berries still didn’t stay around forever, it was a neat treat. When you have oatmeal again, and you CAN afford bacon and eggs, you throw some berries in it.

So many recipes can date back to the simple need of, “How do I stretch my cupboard to feed my family?” Can you think of better examples? Let me know in the comments below!

“Now What?”

30 Jun

I frequently ask the question, “Now what?” especially when it comes to racial justice, climate change, and other GIANT issues that activists bring up. If there is something small and reasonable I can do, I’ll do it. But frequently the call to action is either “Be afraid,” “Be ashamed,” or “Be aware.”

One of my readers asked that same question of me – I brought up the history of Juneteenth and the problem of trying to love our country at the same time being aware of its sins. A lot of people have trouble with this. We prefer to think in terms of dichotomies; black-white, good-bad, right-wrong. But real life doesn’t work that way. Real life has contradictions, injustice, trade-offs… and that’s uncomfortable.

Let’s talk about climate change. No, there is too much, let me talk about water pollution instead. Let’s say you’re a paper mill in Eastern Oregon. You produce waste product which is most conveniently dumped into the Columbia River. The EPA regulates the amount of waste you can dump into the river, but if you fish salmon out of that river, that may be putting too much toxic chemicals into the fish… which means it’s unsafe to eat.

Okay, at this point, you have to ask yourself, “Why not eat chicken?” That’s one option. But let’s say, you’re one of the multiple native tribes that live in that area for which a) salmon is part of your culture and b) we’re rather poor and need an cheaper protein source. Many of your tribal members AND neighbors also need the work that the paper mill provides. “Now what?”

The answer is “get involved.” To which I would answer, “I’ve got a life, I don’t have time, I don’t want to dedicate my life to this. I just want cleaner fish.” That’s why protests tend to be filled with young people. (I’m still not sure who sits outside courthouses waiting for rulings.) But there’s a variety of levels of involvement – if you’re not willing to march, write letters to the company, to your legislatures. Sure, they’ll mostly be ignored, but sheer numbers will get attention even to the most jaded folks. Reach out to the media. Jump on social media. Trust me, you don’t need to spend more than 15 minutes a week doing this. Anyone can slice off that amount of time.

For example, during the COVID shutdown, I wrote my legislators every week calling to end the shutdown. I knew they weren’t reading it, but someone in their office might be ticking my name next to a box. Trust me, when it was the only issue anyone was talking about, politicians want to know. If you repeat the message enough, people will hear. You don’t have to be angry about it, you don’t have to be impolite, you just have to be consistent.

Now here comes the hard part; be willing to compromise. As Americans, our finest asset is holding two contradictory opinions at the same time. (Don’t believe me? Polls say that many people who are pro-life are also pro-death penalty.) So let’s apply that to other parts of our life. We want clean water AND paper mills. Can we dump the waste water into containment pool? Can the state share the cost for a better filtering system? Can we make the paper company look good by supporting an environmental initiative?

In the end, remember – you are not powerless. You also don’t have infinite time. Be willing to provide as little as you can and embrace ambiguity. No… it doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker (maybe two bumper stickers), and it sucks as a call to action. But it has the advantage of being honest – and nowadays – that’s the most powerful element of all.

Stop Saying Wango Tango

29 Jun

I’m so tired of cutsy names for things. It may satisfy advertisers who want the name to stick in your head, but it doesn’t help me want to use your product. But does Madison Avenue know better than me?

The name for my advertising pain is “Wango Tango.” This was a music festival out in Carson, California–southeast of Los Angeles–and put on by my frequent post creator, iHeartRadio. I listen to multiple podcasts, two of which are broadcast on their radio stations. Unfortunately, because they sell ad space on their streaming service separately from the broadcast stations, most advertisers don’t want to spend the extra money for a small audience. Which leaves less ads to broadcast for many slots.

So this means I get to listen to iHeartRadio trying to fill space by advertising true crime podcasts on their network and “This Week in Music” history slots. But they also advertise their events, including Wango Tango – except this is advertising the event after it occurred. They’re encouraging you to listen to the music played at Wango Tango on their stations. But who really cared about the music festival in the first place?!

Although they’re playing ads to me, they’re really not for me–I don’t go to music festivals–because I have a type of ADHD that makes large group events and loud music very painful to me. I avoid most concerts from the same reason. I have to think that maybe their audience–those in the precious 16-28 year old demographic who go to music festivals–get their ear ticked up a bit for a goofy sounding festival. After all, it’s not alone: Lollipalooza, Lilith Fair, Fire Island, Coachella (they didn’t make up that name – that’s an actual place).

In a way, they’re simply preaching to the converted – because as Toby on the West Wing once said, “That’s how you make them sing.” iHeart owns 855 radio stations and have a hundred online-only music streams. Somebody has to listen to them, and if this ad comes on, and you’re thinking, “Gee, I’d love to see Helen Shapiro live,” then yeah… mission accomplished. But if they’re already listening to the iHeartRadio app, then why bother advertising that you can hear Shapiro on Hot Mix 96?

I’m betting they’re competing with Spotify and Pandora–so the pitch would be this: If you’re already listening to the Morning Show ™ on the app, why not keep listening for your music on Hot Mix 96? So again, good approach for Mad Ave, but poor execution. I’m not your audience – get better algorithms for your advertisements. Of course, there’s probably not a lot of ads they need to sell for the white 40’s male audience who listens to news and sports talk radio… but trust me, I’ve heard them all.

Have you got a better example of poorly targeted advertising? Let me know in the comments below!

Polite Fiction vs. Cynical View

27 Jun

Maybe I’m too cynical, but I’ve found recently that often I can’t take things at face value. I’m always thinking, “What’s the angle?” “What are they trying to push.” This applies to the news, to ads, but most recently, to holidays.

So my city recently celebrated Juneteenth—when the last slaves were informed they were free—which was June 19th, 1865. The City of Phoenix took the day off; Tempe had Juneteenth flags in the streets (alternating with the new Pride flags, for the month of June). I celebrated it by going to two bars, getting drunk, and having great conversations with vets. Now when discussing Juneteenth with my wife, more specifically its place in civil religion (yeah, these are the conversations I have with my lover—you know you want it), she gave a reason for its recognition that I interpreted as “polite.”

She was of the opinion that this, in addition to MLK Day, were two holidays dedicated to civil rights and it shows the shift in our national discourse and what we choose to celebrate. She put it in the lens of “civil religion” (which is often given as a pejorative), the religious-style way that we approach our national identity. We have sacred documents (Constitution, Declaration of Independence), hymns (America the Beautiful, National Anthem), liturgy (“I pledge allegiance to the flag…), and pilgrimage sites (White House, The Mall, Arlington National Cemetery).

But there’s a reason its pejorative; the reason for many of those “sacred” items in our civil religion were done for cynical reasons. The Constitution was a compromise between different political factions. The Pledge of Allegiance was added around WWI to ensure immigrants identified themselves as Americans; “under God” was added in the 1950’s to fight Communist “godless atheism.”

Which leads to holidays. Independence Day should have been June 2nd, when it was signed, but since it was only announced on the 4th, that’s the day that stuck. Columbus Day became a holiday to honor the Columbian Exposition in Chicago around 1892, which celebrates the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World. Well, that’s the polite answer. It was really to ensure the loyalty of hundreds of thousands of Italian immigrants and get their vote for McKinley.

Juneteenth might honor the end of slavery in America, but it only became popularized after the Tulsa riots on May 30-June 1, 1921 that destroyed Black Wall Street. (Not our finest hour. Also–came up while drinking in bars on Juneteenth.) We don’t like remembering a disaster, so we remember the positive. But at a time when racial politics are emphasized, it’s a way to ensure the loyalty of millions of African-Americans. Now—does that mean we shouldn’t celebrate it? By no means! We should remember ending slavery. We should remember Tulsa. We should remember Columbus AND the destruction of the native peoples as a result.

But the cynical side of me says to not pretend that this is proof of an evolution of the national consciousness. This is a political move to appeal to areas that have a large African-American population, or in the case of Tempe, people who want that evolution of the national consciousness. But I could be too cynical. Is it all right to do the right thing for the wrong reasons? Or to put a polite fiction over a gritty reality? Let me know in the comments below!

Fortress of Solitude

22 Jun

I call my cubicle the “fortress of solitude,” because I don’t want anyone to know what I’m doing here. In reality, I hide here from my family, because I don’t want anyone to see how little I do.

Continuing on the topic I started yesterday, I realized I have a BS Job. In my observation, there is really no reason for my employment except to show to higher management that we have deliverables that are popular enough to prove our department’s continued existence. “People want our classes, so that must mean you need to keep us around!” 🙂

Mind you, I’ve been seeking this kind of job for sometime. Back in 2007, I got a job at a hospital training software. After six months, my boss told me that I was losing my cube, and I needed to work from home. At first, this was shocking, but I suddenly realized the joy of not being in the office. I could finish up the 15 hours of work I had that week, go for a bike ride, check in with my computer from a cafe an hour ride away, play some computer games, then bike some more before coming home.

In the same year, a book I admire came out: The Four-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris. He explained how he went from working 60 hours a week at his own business, to having a mental breakdown, to discovering his business ran… just as easily without him. He was the chokepoint that was slowing everything down. When he granted his employees more authority, only handling the important issues, he ended up only working 4 hours a week.

Of course, he explains how you can do it as well–what we today would call having a “side hustle.” Figure out what your cash requirements are, find a REALLY niche product (or service, but he recommends product) that no one else is providing, and automate the production as much as possible. He also recommends that if you don’t wanna give up your day job, he talks about the “great disappearing act;” how to convince your boss to let you work from home. Once you figure that out, you can use that extra time to go anywhere you want.

So with my jobs since 2007, sometimes I was at my desk, sometimes in the classroom… and no one knew or cared when that was. I’ve been grateful to have good bosses that only really care if the work’s getting done. It’s when it’s not that they have to intervene. My only problem is that… I don’t have the money to blow on enjoying my extra time. When you’re the primary breadwinner for a family of four, well… all that extra cash that a single man would have in my position goes to frivolous things like clothes, doctor appointments, yadda yadda. 😛 For a while, I had the advantage of simply going to a café or my Legion Post bar… but even that got too expensive. Hence, I wanted to go into the office, where my family couldn’t find me, and thanks to COVID, nobody else.

I think the answer is that I need to get a side hustle, so I can get back on the road with my bike–well, a new bike–and start exploring things again. Of course, I just got done convincing my boss that I need to be at my desk four days a week, but… one problem at a time.

Do You Have a BS Job?

21 Jun

If someone has a gig that only requires 15 hours of work a week, is it really necessary? What are the consequences of hiring them? Does your feeling of self worth decline if you know your job is meaningless?

My favorite radio hosts were talking about the danger of the “laptop class” losing their $200K jobs and how that will deepen our current recession. What do I mean by “laptop class?” These are the people objecting to / refusing to go back to the office after working from home for the past two years. People whose jobs allow them to do their work from anywhere. What many have found is that many of those people can get their job done in 15 hours a week, which leaves 25 hours to do… whatever they want. And it’s a lot easier to fake working when you’re not in the office.

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my office–there is two people on this floor–thirty-five cubicles, all but five assigned to current employees. This tells you two things: 1) my workplace suffers from this very problem and 2) I’m part of the problem. After all, I’m writing a blog post when I should be working, but I’m one of those folks who can get their job done in 15 hours a week… some weeks more, some less, but it does make me realize I have a BS job.

Of course, I’ve realized this for some time. In fact, I’ve sought a 15 hour work week for some time. The term 15 hour work week comes from John Maynard Keynes, who predicted in 1930 that automation would lead to people working less…. but we’re working more than ever. Why? Because of what David Graeber calls “BS Jobs.” He contends that half of all societal jobs are pointless…. and you know they’re pointless, but you have to pretend as if they aren’t.

He breaks these down into five types:

Flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants, store greeters, makers of websites whose sites neglect ease of use and speed for looks;

Goons, who act to harm or deceive others on behalf of their employer, e.g., lobbyistscorporate lawyerstelemarketerspublic relations specialists, community managers;

Duct Tapers, who temporarily fix problems that could be fixed permanently, e.g., programmers repairing bloated code, airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags do not arrive;

Box Tickers, who create the appearance that something useful is being done when it is not, e.g., survey administrators, in-house magazine journalists, corporate compliance officersquality service managers;

Taskmasters, who create extra work for those who do not need it, e.g., middle managementleadership professionals.


My current job falls under the taskmasters–or technically, I work for the taskmasters–and the fact that frequently my ability to complete a task is stalled by my boss. At first, I just thought that was because I work in government… but now I’m wondering if it’s the nature of my subject. The question is… why do I even have a job? Shouldn’t someone question why we’re paying for this? No, says Graeber, because in any bureaucracy, number of employees equal power. If HR admits they don’t need ten people, they get less of a budget next year, which means they don’t have as much power in the company.

So as I joke with my friends, I make sure that the head of my department doesn’t know my name. This is not really a joke. Because if the department head knows my name, they might ask, “What does Marcus do?” And if they find the answer is “Not much,” he might ask, “Then why are we paying him?” So I hide in my fortress of solitude on the 3rd floor; the department head is on the 7th and no one knows the other is here.

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